Having now listened to the spine-tingling audio of LA Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s racist tirade, it’s hard to believe he didn’t realise he was being set up.
Perhaps he has reached that wonderful stage of senility where the desire to rant wildly is greater than the actual content itself.
Actually, I’d like to posit that perhaps Sterling knew he was being recorded – and simply didn’t care.
He knew that these words would swiftly reverberate around the league – and the world – and, as an old-fashioned cracker, he felt he had every right to make these sweeping, racially-charged statements.
Years of propping up poor black athletes – providing them with meals, accommodation and access to an unlimited supply of [black/white/latino/mixed race] women – has taken its toll on the humanitarian Sterling.
There’s something terrifyingly real about surreptitiously captured audio – and it’s never good, is it? No one ever leaks a positive audio file, in which the subject comes off as a well-adjusted, selfless individual. Generally, they come off as a psycho/sociopath, ala Christian Bale and Alec Baldwin, or as a racist in the case of Sterling and countless others.
It must be hard for those white men of Sterling’s age – and by that I mean those who legitimately believe, thanks to social conditioning in their formative years and a general lack of education, that white people are the superior race in all facets. Perhaps they have direct lineage to slave owners, or retain vivid memories of a time when black people were literally subservient to whites.
Basically, this whole thing just goes to show that NBA team ownership is a status symbol; something to be waved in another rich guy’s face to say ‘hey, look how much money and power I have!’ Bill Simmons at Grantland* touched on this last week in great detail.
It is a necessary evil in the NBA – and US professional sports in general – that the team owners must by nature be billionaires. Most teams run at a loss, and owners must accept that they’re not in this business to make money, which can take some getting used to for those who measure their self-worth by where they sit on the Forbes Rich List.
Put simply, there’s no place for emotionally charged, George Piggins-style leadership in the NBA. As a buyer, you take whatever franchise you can get in whatever city is available, and write as many zeros on the check as the market dictates.
But the power is immense – and in the NBA, owners rule the roost.
However, with more and more billionaires lining up for a slice of the power pie, Sterling’s seat at the throne is no longer assured. There are plenty of rich white guys in America keen on buying a team right now, as the recent sale of Milwaukee confirmed. And, in 2014, there are plenty of black guys interested in buying teams, too.
Indeed, it beggars belief that Sterling could not have realised that the landscape has shifted as such. And perhaps that was what triggered this racial outburst.
With rapper Jay-Z now part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets – and NBA legend Michael Jordan owning the Bobcats – rich black guys are creeping into his domain.
These are black guys paying salaries to other black guys! It’s no longer white guys writing the checks in the NBA, in other words.
So, feeling increasingly redundant – like Bert Cooper in season 7 of Mad Men, who still wishes to keep black employees ‘out of sight and out of mind’ – Sterling has uncouthly shown his racist streak.
And he probably wanted people to hear it – and I wager that he remains steadfastly unapologetic.
By Dave Edwards
* I feel that we’re two more Grantland references away from a ‘cease and desist’ letter re: copyright infringement